1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The 60th  

The Red Flag flies in Tiananmen on National Day

“You won’t be able to get inside the second ring road,” the taxi driver had told me last night when I asked him about the traffic restrictions in Beijing today.  Not easily put off, I decided that the best way to get close to the National Day celebrations would be to cycle in to the city.  My objective was to get close enough to Tiananmen – the geographic and spiritual heart of the occasion – to be able to take a photo of the national flag.   This, as it turned out, was easier said than done.

  The day had begun inauspiciously with a thick blanket of smog that hung around until about 9am.  At 8am, I had set off on a wet and very muddy road – the reported “seeding” of the clouds with silver iodine, to induce rain and thereby clear the atmosphere of pollution, had had at least some effect.  Then, as I neared the city, the veil of low cloud quickly evaporated and, incredibly, for the first time in many days, the sun began to shine brightly – no doubt much to the relief of the people who had been given the task of delivering a “blue sky” national day.

  At 8.45am I was within the second ring road (using a small pedestrian tunnel just in case).  Then, after 10 minutes, I hit the first serious road block.  Each intersection was guarded by the police; and each hutong (small lane) was blocked by two or more civilian volunteers, sporting red arm bands, and sitting on small stools.  It took me twenty minutes or so of cycling up and down the road before I found a small alleyway that was poorly guarded.  The volunteers, all five of them, were busy telling an elderly man that he couldn’t deliver the boxes that were on the back of his tricycle.  I raced through the opening that I had spotted and within seconds had taken a sharp right down a narrow lane.  After a series of twists and turns, the alleyway joined a wider road and, heading west, I was sure I was within the first security ring. 

  The second cordon was harder to negotiate, but after thirty minutes or so of searching for the right moment, I at last found a breach in the defences, and was through – and within a stone’s throw of Dongchang’an Jie – the avenue that runs east of Tiananmen and from where Hu Jintao was to begin his inspection of the troops.  But the security here was at a different level, so I decided to quit while I was ahead and parked my bike outside a restaurant that was close to the junction with Nanchizi Dajie, at the south-eastern tip of The Forbidden City.  Here was parked the coaches that had carried the VIPs with tickets for the East Grandstand.

  A small restaurant, close to the junction, was doing a roaring trade.  Groups of soldiers, rotating every 30 minutes, were dropping in for their meal break.  I parked myself at a table at the back and watched them watching the ceremony on the restaurant's small TV.  Jiang Zemin, the former president, who retains a good degree of influence, was as popular with the soldiers as he was with CCTV, whose cameramen seemed to be torn between following him and following his successor. The giant portrait of Deng Xiaoping being carried aloft was also well received; as was the lofted portrait of The Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong. 

  Mao had proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in front of a crowd that was reported to be in the region of 300,000 people (at the time, urban Beijing’s population was only 1.65 million).  60 years on and, ironically, Beijingers – other than the lucky few who made it on to the guest list – can only watch from their armchairs.  

  Then it was time for the air show.  This, at last, was something I could watch live.  And what a show it was.  Formation after formation of the air force’s most advanced aircraft blazed a red, yellow, and blue (not sure why blue) trail across Beijing’s azure sky.  The crowd around me were ecstatic; pointing whatever lens they had skywards.  Never have so many Nokias been trained on one single event I mused.


From here, I moved on to my next challenge, crossing a deserted Jianguomen, and thanks to the directions of a man on a child’s scooter, managed to cycle close enough to Tiananmen to complete my photo-challenge (see above).  “What do you think about today,” I asked him.  “Wonderful,” he said, “Beijing has never been so quiet”.   


I then spent a couple of hours trying to penetrate the inner cordon; without success, but it was fun trying.  I cycled up to at least a dozen checkpoints in the alleyways south of the Square.  Here, though, they were manned by soldiers not citizen volunteers.


Well satisfied, I beat a tactical retreat and headed to an Irish pub to watch the evening’s show and fireworks display on CCTV, and to sort out 60 photos (among the several hundred that I have taken) to post to Flickr to mark my participation, albeit on the fringes, of a momentous day in China’s history. 

  But what does the event mean to the man or woman in the street?  Clearly, there is a groundswell of national pride and a feeling that China has come a very long way in a relatively short period of time.  60 years ago, Mao said that the Chinese nation had stood up.  Today there is a palpable sense that it is walking briskly with its head held high. 

Soldiers watch the ceremony and parade during a break from guard duty